THE race for the 2016-17 Qatar Stars League (QSL), heading for an exciting finish, has by now seen one or two turning points.
Lekhwiya and Al Sadd went into the 23rd round tied on points, raising visions of a play-off, assuming both would win their remaining matches. But Umm Salal provided a new twist, holding Sadd to a goalless draw, while Lekhwiya had no difficulty in subduing Al Kharaitiyat.
The Men in Orange thus proved to be a common factor in deciding which way the fortunes fluctuated, having earlier handed the Cops their first defeat in Round 21.
Looking at the remaining fixtures, I think the dice are loaded against Sadd, who’ll have to play Al Rayyan, Al Sailiya and El Jaish. On the other hand, Lekhwiya, who also will have to tackle El Jaish, face relatively weaker opponents in Al Ahli and Al Shahaniya.
If 13-time champions Sadd, hoping to regain the crown they last won in 2012-13, miss out this time too, it’ll be the draw against Umm Salal that might haunt them in general and their star player Hassan Al Haidous in particular after he failed to convert an injury-time penalty.
Once again, it has been proved that the ability to handle pressure separates a champion from the rest. Al Haidous has been quite successful from the spot in the past, but he seemed to have succumbed to the pressure of taking what could’ve been a decisive penalty in added time.
Interestingly, Lekhwiya and Sadd provide more players to the Qatar national team, due to play Iran and Uzbekistan in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers on March 23 (at home) and 28 (away) respectively. Jorge Fossati’s men still have a mathematical chance of making it to Russia, but a draw or defeat against Iran could end their challenge.
If the national team fails in its mission, then the senior players will be under severe pressure and coaches of both Lekhwiya and Sadd, Djamel Belmadi and Jesualdo Ferreira respectively, will have a tougher task to motivate them for the remaining QSL fixtures in April.
On the other hand, the break could be a blessing in disguise for those who failed to get into the national team. They get enough time to recover from injuries, if any, and come back rejuvenated. Perhaps, some unsung heroes, who may still change the script of QSL title race, could emerge.